ESPN Deportes reported last night that ESPN Deportes reported last night that

Veras signs with Cubs; Now who’s going to close?


Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes reported last night that Jose Veras will sign with the Chicago Cubs. Veras, who started the 2013 season as the Astros closer, had expressed interest in returning to Houston and both parties were reportedly negotiating a deal. Tuesday’s news means that a Veras reunion is now off the table… and the Astros are still looking for someone to pitch the ninth inning.

The Veras deal with the Cubs is reportedly worth $4 million for 2014 and a $5.5 million option for 2015 (plus incentives). With the following quote attributed to Veras, you have to wonder how negotiations with the Astros fell apart.

"It’s a young team and they’re hungry to win. I feel part of the team. I doesn’t mater to me if we win or lose. When you play as a team and everybody cares, that’s the best part for me."

Apparently Veras was asking for a little more money than the Astros were willing to pay. If that is indeed the case, it seems unlikely that the ‘Stros are going to be able to acquire an experienced closer this winter. It would now appear as though incumbent Josh Fields and recent Free Agent additions Matt Albers and Chad Qualls are among the finalists for ninth inning duties in Houston.

Given the choices, I would rather go with Qualls.

Even though Albers has put together a couple of nice seasons over the past two years, most of his work has been in low leverage situations. Qualls, on the other hand, has pitched in more meaningful games.

In an Indians bullpen that featured the likes of Cody Allen, Chris Perez, Bryan Shaw, Vinnie Pestano, and Joe Smith, Albers was used mainly in a mop up role. Albers pitched in 56 games — and Cleveland won only 19 of them —  and many of those were blowouts. Remember, Cleveland won 92 games last season. Albers managed to secure only one hold all year. Matt was just a guy that pitched the unimportant innings, effectively freeing up others to pitch in the high leverage situations. That isn’t exactly the pedigree of a closer-in-the-making.

Chad Qualls (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

After making the 2013 Marlins team as a warm body out of the bullpen, Qualls quickly established himself as a reliever that could be depended on for the tough innings. Chad piled up 15 holds and blew only two saves on a team that won just 62 times all year. The Marlins won 32 of the 66 games in which Qualls appeared, meaning he was usually pitching in stressful situations.

Taking it back another season, to the 2012 campaign, the numbers tell a similar story — even though Qualls had an ERA above five and Albers enjoyed a career year.  A closer look at the stats shows that Qualls was actually more successful in high leverage situations.

In 2012, Qualls started the season as the Phillies’ primary setup man. He accumulated 12 holds before being dealt to the Yankees at the trade deadline. Chad’s role would change in New York and he would eventually be traded to Pittsburgh. Oddly enough, Chad struggled down the stretch. He did his best work while pitching in high leverage situations with the Phils.

Albers had tremendous overall numbers in 2012. However, Matt enjoyed most of is success while working in middle relief or mop up duty. Matt’s team was victorious in only three of the 21 games that he finished. His eight holds were overshadowed by six blown saves, suggesting that Albers was not at all efficient on those occasions when he was asked to protect a lead.

When asked to elaborate on the Astros closer situation following the Veras signing, Jeff Luhnow had this to say:

"We’re still talking to other relievers. Again, the closer role is really going to be determined during Spring Training, and from the standpoint of Josh Fields, Chad Qualls, and Matt Albers, they all have the arm strength and pitches to pitch in the ninth inning. We’ll just kind of see what develops. We’re not necessarily done on pitching. We’re still talking to some pitchers, and we’ll see what happens."

I’d be surprised if the Astros pony up the dollars required to land a Joaquin Benoit or Fernando Rodney. So, given what we have to work with, I’d like to go ahead and cast my vote for Chad Qualls. Or, maybe we will get lucky and one of the youngsters will step up.